We, like everyone, love humankind's crowning achievement: pizza. So this week, Cracked is dishing out pieces of pizza history and deep-dives into the food G.O.A.T.
Whether you think pineapple on pizza is a swell idea or a horrid crime against humanity (those are the only two options), let's all agree on one thing: it's weird that this topic is as divisive as it is, right? It feels like one day, the entire internet was drafted into the Great Pineapple Pizza War without warning, and we've been knee-deep in its delicious/disgusting trenches since then. How did such an innocuous topic become the catalyst for a never-ending online argument? Let's go back to the very beginning and find out ...
"Hawaiian" Pizza Was Created In Canada, By A Greek Immigrant, Inspired By Chinese-American Food
Hawaii's taste in toppings has baffled pineapple pizza detractors for ages, but it turns out that they're not the ones to blame for this controversial creation: Canada is. More specifically, Greek-Canadian restaurant owner Sam Panopoulos, who decided to throw some pineapple and ham on his pizzas in 1962, inspired by the sweet and sour combinations of America's Chinese food. They called him a madman. According to Panopoulos himself, "nobody liked it at first," and people told him, "you are crazy to do this." But, a couple of months later, his customers were asking him for more ("once Stockholm Syndrome had kicked in," our anti-pineapple readers are no doubt thinking now).
As for the "Hawaiian" part, Panopoulus got that from the brand of canned pineapple he was using, and it caught on. Or at least that's the most repeated origin story for Hawaiian pizza. Others believe it was derived from "Toast Hawaii," a German snack consisting of toast, ham, pineapple, melted cheese, and a cherry, in that order. This wild culinary innovation was popularized in the '50s by TV cook Clemens Wilmenrod and reportedly led Germans to slap pineapple on whatever and call it "Hawaiian." Including, apparently, pizza.
Meanwhile, a 1976 book claims Hawaiian pizza was invented in California, and a 1978 one pins it down to San Diego's Carnegie A-440 Pizza Hall (contemporary ads confirm that "pineapple and ham" pizza was in their menu in the mid-'70s, but there's no evidence that they had it before 1962). Of course, it's perfectly possible that a bunch of people around the world independently came up with the same idea at different points. The only thing we know for sure is that Hawaii didn't do it because they don't particularly care for their namesake pizza. And they're not alone ...
"Pineapple Doesn't Belong On Pizza" Jokes Are Pretty Old
The idea that pineapples and pizza shouldn't mix has been showing up in pop culture since at least the '70s, but it took a long time for the pineapophobic movement to gather momentum. In 1998, legendary author Terry Pratchet wrote "there is no excuse for putting pineapple on pizza" in a footnote in his novel The Last Continent. In the same year, Bill Clinton used his speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner to apologize for stuff like disco music, "our long neglect of the planet Pluto," and "pineapple on pizza -- some things are just wrong."
You can find articles and comments on the '90s web casually calling pineapple on pizza "sacrilegious" with occasional pushback, but it's not really a source of extended debate. In a 2002 New York Times article an Italian-American chef is reported as saying that the only time he made a Hawaiian pizza was when a pregnant customer was craving it, "But that's the last time." In a 2005 Irish Times one, an Italian student visiting Ireland says: "I do not understand pizza here. It is very strange: why do you put pineapple on pizza?" According to a thorough investigation of this debate on The Economist, these comments hint at the core of why a lot of people automatically reject pineapple on pizza: because it's a "bastardization" of the traditional Italian pizza and a "shorthand for inauthenticity, fast food and poor taste" -- a symbol of how much we've strayed from God's light.
There's also, as the Washington Post points out, the fact that a lot of it is prepared poorly, with canned pineapples whose sloppy juices clash with the rest of the ingredients beyond the acceptable limits of sweet and sour combinations. When that article's author exposed a group of co-workers, including pineapple pizza skeptics, to an expertly prepared specimen (the kind you're highly unlikely to encounter in the wild), every single one of them had to admit they liked it.
In 2005, the pro-pineapple side scored a "win" when Charlie Sheen "endorsed" Hawaiian pizza in an episode of Two and a Half Men while using the subject as an excuse for a "hilarious" gay "joke."
On the other hand, in 2010, the entire cast of Futurama came out as anti-pineapple pizza when that's all they have to eat while stranded in a cave in a distant planet.
And, incidentally, that's around the time when the subject really started heating up ...
The 2010s: Pineapple Pizza Hate Becomes A Meme
According to the sleuths at Know Your Meme, the debate as we know it began to pick up steam in late 2009, marked by the creation of a "Pineapple does NOT belong on PIZZA!" Facebook group that was followed by a wave of anti-pineapple memes. Like all memes, once it got big enough, it was picked up by the media, exposing a new audience to what had become an internet in-joke and increasing the polarization. Then the debate got political in 2017 when Icelandic president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson told some kids he'd ban Hawaiian pizza if he could, sparking international outrage.
Canada's Justin Trudeau promptly came out as a member of #TeamPineapple on Twitter, although considering we're talking about a Canadian invention, this could easily be a populist move.
Things got even weirder in 2019 when the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released an infographic using the pineapple on pizza debate as an example of how Russia and other foreign agents exploit divisive topics to sow division among the American populace.
Of course, the DHS chose this topic because ... who cares if you're pro- or anti-pineapple on pizza? It doesn't really affect the rest of us in any significant way, except maybe for how long you'll be taking up the guest toilet at our place. This also explains why the "debate" has exploded so dramatically over the past decade: Hawaiian pizza is something easy to hate and cost less to defend, so we allow ourselves to go overboard on this one topic, knowing on some level that it's all a big meme. So, as heated the debate might get, rest assured that no one truly judges you for your choices, whether you're pro-pineapple on pizza or have functioning taste buds.